Mantler was born in 1943 in Vienna, Austria, where he studied trumpet
and musicology at the Academy of Music and Vienna University. In 1962
he went to the USA to continue his studies at the Berklee School of Music
moved to New York in 1964 and started playing trumpet with Cecil Taylor
and others. During that period he was also involved in the formation of
the Jazz Composer's Guild, a collective of musicians and composers, struggling
for better working conditions and opportunities to present their new music
without compromise. Together with Carla Bley he formed a large jazz orchestra
to perform new compositions, resulting in their first recording Communication.
After the Guild discontinued its activities, he toured Europe twice
during 1965/66 with the Jazz
Realities Quintet, featuring Steve Lacy and Carla Bley.
He then established the Jazz Composer's Orchestra Association, a non-profit
organization to commission, perform, and record new compositions for jazz
He recorded a double album of his music during 1968 with the Jazz
Composer's Orchestra and soloists Cecil Taylor,
Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Larry Coryell, and Gato Barbieri.
Some of this music was also performed during the "Long
Concerts" at the Electric Circus in 1969.
He appeared as trumpet player on Carla Bley's A
Genuine Tong Funeral, recorded by Gary Burton, and also
on Charlie Haden's Liberation
Music Orchestra album (1969).
He co-ordinated and participated in the Jazz Composer's Orchestra's next
recording project, Carla Bley's Escalator
Over The Hill (1968-71).
The problems of independently distributing the orchestra's record label
led him to form the New Music Distribution Service in 1972, an organization
which was to serve many independent labels for almost 20 years.
In 1973 he started WATT WORKS, a new record label devoted to the presentation
of his and Carla Bley's music exclusively. He recorded No
Answer, featuring Jack Bruce, for which he wrote music
to the words of Samuel Beckett.
The following year he built a recording studio near Woodstock, N.Y.
to escape the pressures of commercial recording studios. He received composition
grants from the Creative Artists Program Service and the National Endowment
for the Arts, and with the aid of a Ford Foundation grant he was able
to undertake the recording of his 13 for two orchestras and piano (1975).
He wrote and recorded several more albums for WATT: The
Hapless Child, with words by Edward Gorey, featuring
Robert Wyatt (1976), Silence,
based on the Harold Pinter play, again with Robert Wyatt (1976), Movies,
with Larry Coryell and Tony Williams (1977), and More
Movies, with Philippe Catherine (1980). During that
period he also appeared on albums by John Greaves (Kew
Rhone) and Nick Mason (Fictitious
Sports), and then toured briefly with his own small
In 1982 he recorded Something
There with Mike Stern, Nick Mason, and the strings of
the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Gibbs. Later that
year he participated in a European tour and a recording (Ballad Of The Fallen) with a
new edition of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra.
Several newly commissioned compositions were performed in Cologne by
the Orchestra of the West German Radio (WDR)
in 1984, and the following year he composed and recorded Alien,
featuring Don Preston.
From 1977 until 1985 he was also a member of the Carla
Bley Band, touring extensively throughout Europe, the USA,
and Japan, as well as appearing on all of the Band's recordings.
His orchestral suite Slow
Orchestra Pieces was premiered by the Orchestra of the
Opera de Lille in France during March 1986, and the Danish Radio Concert
Orchestra commissioned a new work from him for a radio production in May
1987 in Copenhagen.
He was asked to participate in the International Art-Rock
Festival in Frankfurt during February 1987, for which he
formed a group with Nick Mason, Jack Bruce, Rick Fenn, Don Preston, and
John Greaves. Material from this concert was later released on his Live
album. The following summer he briefly toured Europe with a similar band
featuring Jack Bruce and Anton Fier.
Most of 1987 was spent working on an album of songs in English, German,
and French, based on the poetry of Samuel Beckett, Ernst Meister and Philippe
Soupault, with Jack Bruce, Marianne Faithfull, Robert Wyatt, and the Danish
Radio Concert Orchestra (Many Have No Speech). Music from this album
was also performed at a concert produced by the West German Radio in Bielefeld
during April 1989.
At the beginning of 1991 he left the United States, discontinuing his
work with WATT, and moved back to Europe, where he now lives and works,
dividing his time between Denmark and France.
A new orchestral piece was commissioned by the Austrian Donau
Festival, and was premiered near Vienna in June 1991 by the
Nö.Tonkünstlerorchester, conducted by Michael Gibbs, with Andy Sheppard
as soloist. New compositions were also commissioned by the Danish Radio
Big Band and the North German Radio Big Band in Hamburg.
His album Folly
Seeing All This was recorded during June 1992 in London,
and released by ECM Records in 1993. It features the Balanescu String
Quartet plus other instrumentalists, and it includes new instrumental
music and a setting of Samuel Beckett's last poem, written shortly before
his death (What
Is The Word), featuring the voice of Jack Bruce.
In 1993 he formed the ensemble "Chamber Music and Songs",
featuring his trumpet plus Mona Larsen (voice), Bjarne Roupé (guitar),
Kim Kristensen (keyboards), and a string quartet. Its premiere took place
at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in September, followed by a studio production
at Danmarks Radio. Some of this material was eventually to appear on the
and One Symphony album.
Un Paese Innocente, a Suite of Songs and Interludes
for Voice, Untypical Big Band and Chamber Ensemble, with words by the
Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, had its premiere in concert at the Danish
Radio January 1994. Featured were the voice of Mona Larsen,
Mantler's Ensemble, and the Danish Radio Big Band, conducted by Ole Kock
Hansen. The work was subsequently recorded in the studio and released
by ECM Records in 1995. Another performance of the work took place in
Sicily, during April 1996.
"sort-of-an-opera" The School of Languages, had its
premiere August 1996 at Arken,
the new Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen. Participants included singers
Jack Bruce, Mona Larsen, Susi Hyldgaard, John Greaves, Don Preston, Karen
Mantler, Per Jørgensen, and Robert Wyatt. Its recording was released as
a double-CD by ECM Records in the Fall of 1997 under its new title The
School of Understanding. The work was again presented
during November 1997 at the Hebbel
Theater in Berlin.
A large orchestral piece, One
Symphony, commissioned by the Hessischer Rundfunk, was
premiered November 1998 by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt, conducted
by Peter Rundel. Its recording was released by ECM in early 2000 together
with previously recorded material featuring Mona Larsen and the "Chamber
Music and Songs" Ensemble (Songs
and One Symphony) interpreting songs set to texts by Ernst Meister.
And Seek, an album of songs with words by Paul Auster (from his
play by the same name), for chamber orchestra and the voices of Robert
Wyatt and Susi Hyldgaard, has been released by ECM Records March 2001.
of the work, in collaboration with Rolf Heim (who has previously worked
with Mantler on The School of Understanding performances), were
created in the Spring of 2002 in Copenhagen and Berlin.
His Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone (originally commissioned
by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro in 2001), was premiered at
the Hessischer Rundfunk in March 2005 with the Radio Symphony Orchestra
Frankfurt, conducted by Pascal Rophé.
During September 2006 Porgy
& Bess in Vienna presented a series of retrospective portrait concerts
with his "Chamber Music and Songs" ensemble
In recognition of his life's work he received several Austrian awards:
the State Prize for Improvised Music, the Prandtauer Prize of the City
of St.Pölten (where he spent his early youth), and the Music Prize of
the City of Vienna.
Released November 2006, the anthology Review
(recordings 1968 - 2000), traced his unique musical path during more than
30 years of recordings for JCOA, WATT and ECM.
He appeared at the JazzFest
Berlin in November 2007 with his Concertos project, featuring
the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin under the direction of Roland Kluttig.
A studio recording of Concertos
with soloists Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Bob Rockwell (tenor saxophone), Roswell
Rudd (trombone), Pedro Carneiro (marimba and vibraphone), Majella Stockhausen
(piano), Nick Mason (percussion), and Mantler on trumpet, was released
by ECM during November 2008.
His latest CD For
Two, a series of duets for guitar (Bjarne Roupé) and piano
(Per Salo), was released by ECM during June 2011.